Alliance Leader Q&A: Ivory Taylor from HOME Line
If you followed the campaign to pass the recent tenant protection ordinance in Minneapolis, Ivory Taylor may already be a familiar face. Drawing on her lived experience of growing up in a mixed-race family that faced economic insecurity and housing instability, and her work organizing with tenants through HOME Line, Taylor has spoken publicly and powerfully in recent months about the urgent need for renters’ rights in front of the press and elected officials. Given her recent leadership shift from AmeriCorps VISTA Organizer to Lead Tenant Organizer and VISTA Program Director, we sat down with her to learn more about how she got into this work, her approach to organizing — and the best concert she’s seen this year.
How did you get involved in this work?
I got involved through the AmeriCorps VISTA program after I finished my masters in community practice social work and human rights. When I was in school I volunteered with CTUL and my union and had the privilege to learn from human rights activists in Turkey and Mexico. I’d been connected to really strong, powerful grassroots organizing and was definitely inspired — and as I looked for the next step to take after grad school, I thought “I think I want to be an organizer!” My last internship was at the James H. Binger Center for New Americans at the University of Minnesota Law School. Coming out of that experience, my passion for and commitment to justice was really solidified, so I applied to the HOME Line AmeriCorps position, which I saw as an opportunity to test my theory about pursuing community organizing as a career.
What informed your lens around equity and justice — and led you to that line of study in college?
I grew up in a mixed-race, low-income family. We faced housing insecurity, living in and out of subsidized housing and shelters. We lived primarily in Eagan and experienced a lot of economic discrimination as poor folks in a wealthy suburb, living in a low-income neighborhood that had a lot of stigma and stereotypes attached to it from the broader community. My sibling experienced racial prejudice at school and I was severely bullied for being a fat kid. I grew up seeing my mom advocating for us and challenging the ways we were experiencing the world, and that was important. I remember her going up to the school and fighting back against the racism that was happening to my brother and advocating for me when I was bullied, so I think I just grew up with the idea that that was what you did; you push back against injustice. And that was really solidified when I was 13 years old and we moved from the metro area to rural Georgia, where my mom is from. It was such a completely different experience for me. I found myself face to face daily with very overt racial prejudice and anti-immigrant sentiment, and I was always challenging people over these statements. I very quickly became known as the “loud Yankee.” All of these experiences pushed me in the direction of fighting for justice.
So when you tested your theory about being an organizer, were there any surprises?
I think one of the biggest realizations I had is how relationship-centered organizing is. If you don’t build that foundation and get to know people and figure out why something matters individually and collectively, an effort to build power from the grassroots level will not be successful. So learning about doing one-to-ones and how to listen — really listen — to people when they’re talking about what they need or want or what their solutions are is so important. And that’s not necessarily something that’s intuitive to everybody. It’s a skill I had to learn, and I am still learning everyday how to do that better.
Having been at HOME Line for more than a year now, is there a campaign that stands out that you’re most proud of?
Absolutely. Tenants from Madison Apartments and Townhomes in Minneapolis called HOME Line predominantly because of repair issues and mismanagement. Another former VISTA and I went to work with residents and, in the process of walking with them as they were building community power and forming a tenants’ association, it came up that the management was planning to demolish the townhomes that made up half of the property, displacing 22 families while a new building was put up. The community would very literally have been torn apart as they were relocated to other buildings in different cities. With support from Elliot Park Neighborhood, Inc., the Madison Apartments and Townhomes Tenants’ Association responded to the owners’ plan by pointing out the impact of disrupted school placements for children, as well as family and community caregiving among tenants. After a lot of pushing by the residents — who have done amazing work to raise their voices and show their power — the owners came back with Plan B, which is to renovate the townhomes one by one, moving each family to an open unit while they do it. At the start, they said it wasn’t even possible to salvage the townhomes but they ended up going back to the drawing board, and even acknowledged, in front of the city council, that they did not listen to the residents in creating their original plan and that they should have. Now, nobody will be displaced, which is a really, really big deal.
What are you excited in your work at HOME Line right now?
I’m really excited about the AmeriCorps VISTA project — convening and coordinating a cohort of five VISTAs doing tenant organizing at New American Development Center in Eden Prairie: African Career Education and Resource, Inc in the Brooklyns; the West Side Community Organization in St. Paul and here at HOME Line. I love program development and creating trainings, and I also like the idea of helping to get people inspired to enter the work — because it is hard work. It takes someone with a passion to do it and we’re so under-resourced in this field. So I’m really excited to work with a group that’s so committed and interested and excited about building power with tenants.
I also love working in coalition, because it’s so inspiring to see the work other organizations are doing. As a new organizer myself, I’m also trying to grow and learn and, honestly, I don’t think organizing can be done without coalition and partners. There’s no organizing I do on my own — ever. The first thing I do when I’m organizing or supporting tenants is think about who do we need to partner with?
What’s something people might not know about you?
I have two state titles in medical terminology in Georgia! I love to travel and experience new places, and I also love live music. I went to Ella Mai and Kiana Ledé at the Varsity in February and it was phenomenal! I’m going to Barcelona in December with my nephew and am really looking forward to that.